3 sites in India recommended for the reintroduction of cheetah
Madhya Pradesh & Rajasthan recommended
Some cheetah may be taken from Iran to safeguard the only surviving Asiatic cheetahs.
August 2010. The Wildlife Institute of India and The Wildlife Trust of India
have recommended three sites as the best places to re-introduce cheetah into India. 18 cheetah will initially be released on the 3 proposed sites; these cheetah will be obtained from the Middle East and African.
The Report reveals that 10 sites were assessed from seven landscapes in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, for their potential to harbour viable cheetah populations. Field surveys were carried out to collect data on prey abundance, local community dependencies on forest resources and their attitudes towards wildlife, and habitat size.
Submitting its feasibility report on ‘Assessing the Potential for Reintroducing the Cheetah in India', Dr Y V Jhala, Senior scientists, Wildlife Institute of India said, "Reintroductions of large carnivores have increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions. The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated from India, mainly by over-hunting in historical times. India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as ecological reasons. With this context, a consultative meeting of global experts was held at Gajner in September, 2009. A consensus was reached at this meeting for conducting a detailed survey in selected sites to explore the potential of reintroducing the cheetah in India."
Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests said, "It is important to bring cheetah back to our country. Cheetah have not been seen since 1967 in India. This is perhaps the only mammal whose name has been derived from Sanskrit language, being derived from the Sanskrit word ‘chitraku', which means spots. Cheetah will help restore India's grasslands which will help the conservation of many other endangered animals. The way tigers restore forest ecosystems, snow leopards restore mountain ecosystem, the cheetah will restore grasslands of Indiathe country."
12,500 kms2 reserve in Madhya Pradesh
Amongst the seven surveyed possibilities, the landscape that contained Sanjay National Park, Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary and Guru Ghasidas National Park was the largest, covering over 12,500 km2 . It is in this landscape that the cheetah continued to survive till after India's Independence. However this landscape is now characterised by low prey densities, probably due to poaching by tribal communities that reside within the protected areas. The three protected areas were currently estimated to have the capacity to support about 14 cheetah.
However with plans under way as part of the Project Tiger scheme for Sanjay National Park and Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary, these protected areas are likely to improve and could potentially support more than 30 cheetah, while the surrounding zone could support a further 30.
|Kuno Palpur may be suitable as it is being prepared for Asiatic lion |
Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary - Also potential lion habitat
Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary is a part of the Sheopur-Shivprti forested landscape, which had the second largest area (6,800 km2) amongst the surveyed sites. This site was rated high on the priority list for considering the reintroduction of the cheetah, because a lot of restorative investment has already been made here for introducing Asiatic lions. The Protected Area was estimated to have a current capacity to sustain 27 cheetah, which could possibly increase to some 32 individuals with the addition of some more forested areas.
Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary
The Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary (1197 km2) in Madhya Pradesh is part of a forested landscape of 5,500 km2. Cheetah prey densities were reasonable in this area and the site was considered favourable to be considered for a reintroduction. Based on current prey densities the area could support 25 cheetah. The report recommends the designation of 750 km2 as a core area of the sanctuary and the relocation of 23 human settlements from the core zone with generous and adequate compensation.
Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary - Unsuitable
Kaimur Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh and Bagdara Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh formed a continuous habitat. However, potential cheetah habitat in this area was small ( less than 500 km2) , as much of the land is under agriculture. Though the prey densities were reasonably high due to good management and law enforcement, the site was not considered further due to its small size and it was likely to have a high level of conflict with an introduced cheetah population.
The Shahgarh landscape on the international border in Jaisalmeer district of Rajasthan was found to be suitable for introducing cheetah. As the area is fenced along the international border, and the report proposes increase the fenced area to encompass about 4000 km2 of suitable habitat. Within this area about 80 seasonal human settlements would need to be relocated with adequate and generous compensation, and alternate arrangements provided. Though the prey species diversity was less (primarily chinkara) in Shahgarh, the area could currently support about 15 cheetah and had the potential to sustain 40 cheetah with habitat management within the large fenced ecosystem.
Desert National Park in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, was reasonably large (3162 km2) with fairly good prey availability. However, the area is heavily grazed by livestock and is the last stronghold for the great Indian bustard. The introduced cheetah are likely to come into severe conflict with local communities and may be a potential threat to the endangered great Indian bustard. For this reason the Desert National Park was not considered ideal for cheetah reintroduction.
Banni grasslands and Kachchh Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat cover a vast arid landscape of which over 5800 km2 could be considered as potential cheetah habitat. The wild prey abundance was extremely low with no current potential for considering introduction of a large carnivore. However, the area has potential and with restoration, livestock grazing management and law enforcement the area could bounce back and could potentially support some 50 cheetah. If the Gujarat Government takes serious steps to restore this landscape, than the site could be re-evaluated at a later date.
Madhya Pradesh & Rajasthan recommended
Based on this assessment, The Wildlife Institute of India and The Wildlife Trust of India recommend that cheetah could be reintroduced at Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh Landscape in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. All the three sites require preparation and resource investments to commence and introduction program. Long-term commitment of political will, resources and personnel is required from the Central and State Governments to implement this project successfully.
Cheetah reintroduction would greatly enhance tourism prospects, especially at the sites, the cascading effect of which would benefit the local communities. Cheetah as a flagship would evoke a greater focus on the predicament of the much abused dry-land ecosystems and the need to manage them, which would benefit pastoralism in India where the largest livestock population in the world resides, the large majority of it being free-ranging.
The venture must be viewed not viewed not simply as an introduction of a species, however charismatic it may be, but as an endeavour to better manage and restore some of our most valuable yet most neglected ecosystems and the species dependent upon them.